mo a c m s i os

assata revisited

FALL 2001 / $4.00

dorothea smartt a honky review chester himes rage against the publishing machine nikky finney

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alicejamesbooks

Beatrice Hawley Award

Claudia Keelan Winner 2000

Forrest Hamer Winner 1995

B.H. Fairchild Winner 1997

Amy Newman Winner 1999

The Beatrice Hawley Award is open to poets nationwide. Winners receive $2000 and publication. Send SASE for complete guidelines or visit our website. Submission deadline is December 1st 2001.
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alicejamesbooks 238 Main St. Farmington, Maine 04938 www.umf.maine.edu/~ajb www.mosaicbooks.com an affiliate of the University of Maine at Farmington

[ c o n t e n t s ]

Country Grammar | 12 Poet Nikky Finney talks about her southern roots and the poetry she writes. by Tara Betts The African American Publishing Hustle | 16 Do you know exactly who owns whom? We examine book publishing and why the actual book is now the least important part of the process. by Ron Kavanaugh A Short Story | 20 Butterfly by B.C. Gayle Criminal Minded | 22 Before Walter Mosley, Colson Whitehead or Valerie Wilson Wesley there was Chester Himes. His novels have been signatures of Black crime noir novels. by Michael Marsh Assata Revisited | 30 Exiled in Cuba, Assata Shakur’s shadow looms larger with each passing year. We revisit the only connection we have to this revolutionary--her autobiography. by Deatra Haime Smartt Mouth | 36 During a recent visit to America, British poet Dorothea Smartt spoke about her craft and life. by Angeli Rasbury A Publicist Life | 42 Exactly what is a book publicist and why would you need one? by Marika Flatt

FALL 2001 / ISSUE ELEVEN
Reatha Fowler

Poet Nikky Finney

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reviews | 26
A Fool’s Paradise Nancy Flowers Wilson Bloodroot Aaron Roy Even The Day Eazy-E Died James Earl Hardy Desirada Maryse Conde Further to Fly Black Women and the Politics of Empowerment Shelia Radford-Hill Honky Dalton Conley House of Light Joyce Carol Thomas If 6 were 9 Jake Lamar Little Boys Come From the Stars Emmanuel Dongala Love on Trial An American Scandal in Black and White Earl Lewis & Heidi Ardizzone Orange Laughter Leone Ross Purchasing Power Black Kids and American Consumer Culture Elizabeth Chin Reyita The Life of a Black Cuban Woman in the Twentieth Century Maria De Los Reyes Castillo Bueno, Daisy Rubiera Castillo Salvation Black People and Love bell hooks

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The Ties ThatRome Parks Bind Electa
Mia is attractive, full of life, flirty and a hopeless romantic, who is going to find that there are many lessons to learn in the game of love. Brice Mia’s husband, is arrogant, passionate, sexy, possessive, and strikingly handsome, looking for an old-fashioned wife, one who knows he wears the pants in the family. Christian Brice’s best friend and fellow womanizer has never been in love. Women are a dime a dozen. And he is not searching for love. Once he meets Mia, Christian finally feels love for the first time in his life; unfortunately, it’s for his best friend’s wife.

The Ties That Bind by Electa Rome Parks

Take a realistic, sometimes brutal, and sometimes funny look at love, betrayal and hurt. So hot it sizzles, The Ties That Bind is a passionate new novel filled with reality, sensuality and raw candor. It’s a must-read that excites readers and makes you yearn for more !
Ask for this hot new bestseller at your local bookstores, Xlibris.com/bookstore / 888-795-4274 Booksamillion.com, Barnesandnoble.com & Amazon.com or contact the author at novelideal@aol.com Novel Ideal Publishing Co. 2274 Salem Road, Suite 106 P.O. Box 173 Conyers, Georgia 30013
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[ c ontributors]

Tricia Baird is a freelance writer living and working in New York City. Tara Betts’s poetry has been published in Dialogue, Rhapsody In Black, and Power Lines: A Decade of Poetry from Chicago’s Literary Guild. Nathasha Brooks-Harris is a Brooklyn native, and the author of the soon-to-be released Panache, a contemporary romance thriller, Currently, she is a contributing editor to several popular magazines. She resides in Upper Darby, PA. Kimberly Burgess in addition to freelancing, is also pursuing a doctorate in anthropology. Marika Flatt is the National Media Director with Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists, based in Austin, TX. B.C. Gayle is a freelance writer living in New York. She is currently working on a novel about political resistance of Black women Deatra Haimé is a freelance writer and editor living in New York City. She is currently at work on a novel that is both the bane and the love of her existence. Lynne d Johnson is editor at large for Mosaic and a freelance writer. Her work has been published in (ai) Performance for the Planet, Africana.com, Artbyte, Vibe, and Sonicnet.com. Visit her website, www. lynnedJohnson.com Ron Kavanaugh is the editor and publisher of Mosaic, host of MosaicLive! TV Show, and creator of Mosaicbooks.com.

Michael Marsh is an editorial assistant for the Chicago Reader, a weekly alternative newspaper. His short fiction has been published in the Rockford Review and Up & Coming magazine. AKilah Monifa is a freelance writer living in Oakland, CA. She has been published in QBR, Lesbian Review of Books, Lambda Book Report, The Lavendar Salon Reader, and the San Francisco Bay Times. Angeli R. Rasbury, a lawyer and writer, is a founding editor of Anansi: Fiction of the African Diaspora, and the executive director of the Nkiru Center for Education and Culture. She is a founding member of the Charles L. Blockson Literary Collective and coedited Sacred Fire: The QBR 100 Essential Black Books. . She has written for Black Issues Book Review and BlackPlanet.com Brooklyn native and resident John Roper aspires to be an outstanding voice and facilitator within the world of education. He loves the written word and always tries to do it justice. L. Stewart began her publishing career working in the university press arena. She now works for a major publisher and is spearheading a movement to bring black professionals together in the publishing field to network and learn from one another. Thumper is an avid reader and host the discussion coard and CWMYB on-line reading group for AALBC. com. He lives in Indianapolis and probably got his nose in a book at this very moment. Kelwyn Wright, a Milwaukee based writer, is the webmaster for theworldebon.com

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RON KAVANAUGH Editor / Publisher CYNTHIA RAY Senior Editor DEATRA HAIME Reviews Editor LYNNE d. JOHNSON Editor at Large Mosaic Magazine (ISSN 1531-0388) is published four times per year by Mosaic Communications. Content copyright © 2001 by Mosaic Communications. No portion of this magazine can be reprinted or reproduced in any form without prior permission from the publisher. Email: magazine@mosaicbooks.com for additional information.

FALL 2001 / NUMBER 11

Subscriptions One year: $12.00 | Two year: $22.00 Subscribe online: mosaicbooks.com. Advertise in Mosaic visit mosaicbooks.com or Writers and Poets.com, LLC writersandpoets.com sales@writersandpoets.com (215) 438-5641 fax: (215) 438-5961. Contact the editor We welcome letters and comments but please do not send unsolicited fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or short stories for reprint in Mosaic. It will not be considered or returned. All letters should be sent to: Mosaic Literary Magazine 314 W 231st St. Suite 470 Bronx, NY 10463 magazine@mosaicbooks.com fax: (603) 761-8150. Printing Services: Expedi Printing Brooklyn, NY (718) 417-0900 [POSTMASTER: Please send address corrections to Mosaic 314 W. 231st St #470 Bronx, NY 10463]

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african voices

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countrygrammar
CAVE CANEM INSTRUCTOR AND KENTUCKY POET, NIKKY FINNEY SPEAKS OF THE SPIRIT THAT GUIDES HER AS A POET by Tara Betts

Nikky Finney, daughter of civil rights workers, sees herself playing with the hottest, blue tongue of the flame as a witness with a pencil to the struggles of Black people and her family in the South. Documention of these struggles represents the bulk of her poetry collection, Rice (Sister Vision Press, 1995), and also finds its hold on her works-in-progress—a novel, Frogmarch, and a third poetry collection, The World is Round. Finney gravitates toward recognizing the traditions she has emerged from and building her own voice. “Time is such an essential factor. There was a time I was working 10 hours at a day job,” said Finney. This former Kinko’s manager, waitress and photographer for National Black Women’s Health Project says she would never take that time to write for granted. Those precious moments granted her the opportunity to teach as a professor at University of Kentucky. In 1989, she moved to Lexington to teach at the university and joined the Affrilachian Poets, a collective of Southern Black poets who have been writing together for 12 years. “We were in need of each other and kept each other over the fire. We still start up every school year with new African American writers.” The classroom always presents its challenges. “You walk into a classroom and you have 15 poets getting ready to feed you and you’re all swimming at the same time.” ”One of the hardest things I do with writing is trying to teach writing. There is so much about writing

Jean Weisinger

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This is the second of a four-part feature on the poets of Cave Canem. Started in 1996 by Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady as a place where African American poets could “slow down” and concentrate on the craft of poetry, Cave Canem’s (Latin for “Beware the Dog”) mission is to provide opportunity through excellence of instruction in a safe and affirming environment.

that is mysterious and I want to stay that way. I never approach it like there is one way to do this. Each poem dictates how it is written.” Finney stresses this point in a time when so many young writers scramble to get a master’s degrees in writing. “If you’re going to a place to be taught to write, then you’re missing the point. Honoring who you are, sitting down, locking the door and listening to your voice is a part of writing. Plucking guts is your own part of the battle.” Although Finney’s work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including The Bluelight Corner (Three Rivers Press, 1998) and Step Into A World (Wiley, 2000), she is still crafting her two works-inprogress. “I don’t expect to write a lot of books in my life. The poems have to arrive.” ”Writing is painstaking and is just as much a job as building a house. We don’t give ourselves the permission to write until someone sanctifies us. Instead of knocking on doors and plastering it on doors, people just go unrecognized. It’s also knowing how to be your bad ass peacock self.” Finney follows this idea with a cautious truth that the rush to be published ignores. “Learn the craft and submerge yourselves in the power of the writing. We need to sit at someone’s shoulder and listen. We have to listen to knowledge brick-by-brick, then figure out what you can contribute to the tradition. We have to slow down and not be in such a

rush, this is an art that becomes more intense with experience and age.” Reading and listening to the voice within as experiences accumulate and years pass is a part of what created Nikky Finney. A voracious reader during her childhood, Finney praised the English teachers in the southern schools. “I was thrown into an ocean of words and I kept swimming,” Finney stressed this as deliberately as each of her words in a poem. It almost seems as if her speech is a draft with its careful metaphors and images reminiscent of the Harlem Renaissance and Black Arts Movement writers that influenced her. Influences are sometimes not enough. “Writing and writers were not exactly something you aspired to be. When I started leaning towards it, embracing it, my parents have always been afraid.” In spite of her family’s fears, her grandmother, who passed away at age 99, encouraged her to finish Rice, a collection that revisits stories of ancestors and relatives long past and connections to our present Black selves. Rice is easier to find than her first book, published when she was 26, On Wings Made of Gauze (William Morrow, 1985). “I have some burn marks with William Morrow and the way they handled my book. As a young, impressionable and naïve writer, I [had] to take in some truths sitting at the feet of Toni Cade Bambara.” As a result of the writing workshop she took with Bambara in Atlanta, Finney made a decision. “I would be more involved, be more aggressive,

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which was why I was satisfied with Sister Vision’s work on Rice.” Finney’s decision to trust a smaller press indicates how today’s writers have technology as a tool that offers them autonomy from bigger publishers, and allows them to make the work visible and full of integrity. “In this technically savvy age, where we are turning away from the arts, if there’s something you want to do, you can do it. You have to be prepared to put everything on the line, if not, then go to engineering school. If you are ready to make the sacrifice and tell the stories the way the ancestors gave them to you then you need to keep ‘coming on strong’ like Sterling Brown.” ”It [creating a poem] is the process of going over it hundreds and hundreds of times, breathing it in, reading it aloud and sharing it with the orchestra of the tongue, developing a familiarity with those pieces of the orchestra. It is the mapping, the remapping and the sketching of the poem that gets me back to the blue flame.” Getting too close to the flame and enveloping the self in the hottest part of the flame helps some writers, Nikky Finney included, hone integrity and the craft of words beyond trends.  (Read an additional Nikky Finney poem on page 48)

The Blackened Alphabet
While others sleep My black skillet sizzles Alphabets dance and I hit the return key On my tired But ever jumping eyes I want more I hold out for some more While others just now turn over shut down alarms I am on I am on I am pencilfrying sweet Black alphabets In an allnight oil - Nikky Finney

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AFRICAN AMERICAN PUBLISHING HUSTLE

THE

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PUBLISHERS ARE SELLING MORE BOOKS THAN EVER BUT ARE THEY WORTH YOUR TIME. WITH THE ADVENT OF THE INTERNET AND DESKTOP PUBLISHING SOON EVERYONE WILL BE A PUBLISHED AUTHOR, LIKE IT OR NOT.

The publishing industry; Random House, Warner Books, and Simon & Schuster among them; has recently discovered the potential of marketing to the African American community, producing a wave of “new” titles specifically for the African American reader. And these major publishers are redefining the word “new.” A unique phenomenon, publishers are buying originally self-published novels, repackaging and re-issuing them. Bestselling authors Karen Quinones Miller, Camika Spencer, Omar Tyree, and E. Lynn Harris, all self-published their first books. Before the self-publishing success of Harris’s Invisible Life and Tyree’s Flyy Girl, the publishing industry paid little attention to this market. Previous to this recent trend, the majority of these re-released titles would have been considered paperback romance novels—priced at twelve to fifteen dollars. With the realization that African Americans will buy books marketed to them, publishers are buying the rights to self-published books, designing new covers and re-releasing them priced at twenty to twenty-five dollars. With few exceptions, the books seem to be of similar genre, both aesthetically and literarily. It’s hard to tell one book from the next—most of the book jackets seem to be designed by the same two or three fortunate designers—each is quite colorful with illustrations of strange faceless people on the covers. The similarities between books for children and books marketed to African Americans is quite distubing. Also take note of the subject matter, which generally floats around some form of relationship woes that only a girlfriend or God can solve, usually very neatly in the last chapter. With the advent of desktop publishing and the Internet, the ability for anyone to publish a book is leading this new charge of fiction readers seem not to get enough of. The great thing about self-publishing is all you need is a story idea and the ability to hustle, a la Nicky Barnes. There are several websites that, for a fee, will print-on-demand (printing only the quantity of books you need or can afford).

GettyImages

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Once the manuscript is bound the onus is on the author to hustle. Authors will often spend weekends and vacation-time criss-crossing the country attending readings, signings, book fairs, and expos to promote their books. Others are building their own websites, featuring their books on other literary sites, (AALBC.com, Amazon.com, BN.com, Cushcity.com, and Mosaicbooks. com) or both. Some self-published authors, purely on their on effort, have sold thousands of books. Major publishers, witnessing this entrepreneurship and seeing an opportunity follow this trend have started creating new “imprints” solely to take advantage of this growing interest. Imprints are publishing divisions within larger conglomerates that have a distinct identity and focus based on a topic or genre, i.e., mystery, romance, politics, African American, and the like. All of these new imprints, Sepia Books (which is owned BET), Strivers Row (which is owned by Random House, who also owns the soon-to-be launched Harlem Moon imprint) and Walk Worthy Press (which is owned by Warner Books, a division of AOL Time Warner) are marketing books cheaply—often times no money is spent—to the African American community. With an emphasis on publicity and marketing, editors now speak of the personality of the author as being a major factor in their being signed to a contract, relegating writing talent to lesser importance. “I believe African American self-published authors are proving themselves by topping the bestsellers lists. I’m pleased that there are publishing houses to buy our work. There are pros and cons. The wide exposure is unattainable by self-published authors irrespective of the soaring sales. On the other hand, the small advances the publishers are offering to the majority of the authors are substantially less than most of us earned in six months as self-publisher. It’s a great place to start but there’s a

lot of work ahead,” says Mary Morrison, author of Soul Mates Dissipate. After self-publishing Soul Mates in 2000, she sold the rights to Kensington Publishers, which re-released the book in June 2001. Morrison’s story is typical of the new clique of young African American authors––self-publish, hustle, sell thousands of books, and hope a Random House or Simon and Schuster will sign you to a two, potentially three book contract. It’s this same hard work that is leading to some self-published authors landing on the New York Times bestsellers list. E. Lynn Harris, whose book, Any Way the Wind Blows, (Doubleday, 2001) spent ten weeks on the NYT list. Other African American authors like Lalita Tademy, Eric Jerome Dickey, and Alice Randall, have all had NYT bestsellers this year. The ways on to the bestsellers list have been varied. Harris and Dickey built their audiences in the wake of the success of Terry McMillan’s, Waiting To Exhale. That success, like all success, has led to a series of imitative titles all placed in the African American “contemporary fiction” genre. While some have found success outside the genre, it is often external forces that have propelled their success. Cane River by Lalita Tademy was selected as Oprah’s bookof-the-month and immediately became a bestseller. The Oprah phenomenon may soon spur others to start “endorsing” books. It’s possible The Rosie O’Donnell Show, ESPN, Playboy, The Cartoon Channel and others will soon follow Oprah’s lead and start their own bookof-the-month clubs. Alice Randall’s The Wind Done Gone (Houghton Miflin, 20001) was positively affected by the inordinate media attention it received because of legal wranglings as to whether the book was a parody of Gone With the Wind or infringed on the book’s copyright. In May the courts sided with the publisher. Randall’s and Tademy’s sales lead to another point; although Harris and Dickey are marketed as “African American” writers, Tademy and Randall are not. And exactly how African American book-buying habits are tracked is somewhat of a mystery; neither the publishing industry nor chain booksellers keep statistics on the race of the book purchaser. New York’s local UPN network news affili-

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ate aired a story on the boom in African American literature, hailing how Blacks are buying books at an unprecedented rate. “This is the best time in history to be an African American author.” Anita Diggs, Director of One World Books, stated during the interview. The newscaster then followed, “Although there are no statistics on the number of books sold that were written by African American authors, publishing industry “insiders” say there has been a huge increase in these sales. Ms. Diggs feels, “More Black titles are definitely being sold by the major publishers. How do I know this? Because more Black titles are being published by the major publishers than ever before. This business is run on purely dollars and cents. If the major publishers were not selling all these books and adding dollars to their bottom line profit margin, they would stop publishing all these books. It is as simple as that. So, if you look at this from a purely economic perspective, Black people are obviously buying a lot more books.” Conversely, a best-selling African American author and television personality alludes to the fact that everyone in publishing––authors, agents and publicists––are all overstating the sales figures. “What it really comes down to for us all is the question of whether the book is profitable and moving off the shelves. The copies sold is done in two parts, a public (promotional) number and then the raw truth, which in all fairness takes some time to calculate because of returns and often very complicated arrangements with stores and merchandisers. So that’s the deal as I see it.“ BUSINESS AS USUAL Simon and Schuster, which has yet to launch an African American imprint, will reissue the originally selfpublished book, Addicted by Zane, and recently reissued Satin Doll by Karen Quinones Miller. Both original self-published releases were phenomenal successes, but it does raise the question; whether there is room for additional book sales of a Simon and Schuster release? The argument can be made that the self-published releases have reached almost every potential book buyer who

Below are the three largest media conglomerates and a partial list of companies they own. Out of the six new African American imprints highlighted below, none are Black-owned.

AOL TIMEWARNER
America Online Time Inc Warner Books HBO Turner Broadcasting CNN The Cartoon Channel ipublish.com Little, Brown & Co. Walk Worthy Press New Line Cinema

BERTELSMAN

Random House Villard Strivers Row Doubleday Harlem Moon Bantam Dell Vintage Ballantine Books One World Crown BarnesandNoble.com (40%) Xlibris.com (49%) Rosie magazine

VIACOM

Simon and Schuster MTV Black Entertainment Television Arabesque Romance Novels Sepia Books CBS Paramont Motion Pictures UPN Nickelodeon Country Music Television Showtime The Movie Channel Blockbuster Entertainment

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[ a

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story]

can be reached, and the publisher of the re-release is betting these authors will continue to hustle the way they did for their original books and drive follow-up releases to greater sales. The outlook for African American literature is brighter once you get past the plethora of commercial fiction. Michael Datcher’s Raising Fences, David Durham’s Gabriel’s Story, Child of God by Lolita Files, Greenwichtown by Joyce Palmer, The Butterfly’s Way edited by Edwidge Dandicat and Bernice McFadden’s The Warmest December, are all excellent reads published in 2001, but usually these are not the books that receive the push from the marketing departments. Most editors would prefer to publish this kind of quality but often find their hands tied by the push to sell books in mass quantities. When a book does not sell at an expected rate it becomes less likely that a writer of similar talent will be signed. An interesting note is African American imprints are not publishing all African American writers. None of the previously mentioned writers were published by African American imprints. Will African American imprints publish Terry McMillan, Toni Morrison, Walter Mosley, Alice Walker, or Zadie Smith? The pattern tends to support that any book that has the potential of critical acclaim or Oprah’s blessing has too much crossover appeal to be aligned solely with being Black. And if there is any hope that this will grow into an honest movement to advance Black literature when will we start seeing non-fiction, anthologies and poetry available by these new imprints? This may be a start, but until there is more diversity of subject matter, overall enthusiasm for this current trend will remain lacking. 

e told me he would be right back. And when I heard the front door close like a whisper, I began countin’ the minutes, the hours… the days. He’s not comin’ back. I knew when I was half asleep, when he was strokin’ my hair, my vulnerable naked body, touchin’ me, but touchin’ me from a distance as if he was afraid to break my skin, my heart, that he wasn’t comin’ back. They never come back for me, but they always seem to take somethin’ valuable from me and leave behind somethin’ that I can’t use — somethin’ that I don’t want. I remember clearly the way he walked up to me, movin’ like he got music caught in his skin, bass and tom-toms in his soul, beatin’ feverishly and passionately. And he walked or should I say strolled like Superfly as if his feet were too precious to touch the ground, a man only on earth temporarily, just takin’ up space, beautiful Black space. He strolled towards me takin’ ten steps. I counted because I was waitin’ and anticipating his arrival when he would be up in my face, in my personal space, in my world, and in me. He had five more steps to go and I was still anticipatin’. And then he smiled. I noticed the gold over his right canine tooth and that made him special because other men would have put the gold on the front tooth, so the gold could be seen with every movement of their lips. But he had to smile long and wide for me to see the gold canine tooth and I liked him from then on. I like his smile. Eight steps, nine steps and “hello.” He was close enough for me to hear the rhythms trapped inside of him. The same rhythms that made him walk so—-no, strolled so—and I liked what I heard. How did he know that I loved music, loved to dance and to sing. And he a stranger

H

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Butterfly by B.C. Gayle
now I’m just numb ... the pills are workin’. comin’ to me, playin’ music for me, how could I not have loved him. He played those rhythms for me over and over again, sharin’ with me his musical soul, his vital organs. Then he left so quietly and all the music was gone. And I heard when I was half asleep the whisper of the door sayin’ goodbye. It was the same kind of whisper like when, after makin’ love, he would speak so softly into my ear, so low and so light as if not to disturb the molecules in the air. He would say, “You all right, baby?” and I would say, “Yes” and fall into sleep. And the next day, I woke up tired and achin’ and I wonder what he had taken from me. And then I wondered what useless thing he had left behind for me. I’m convinced he left me this headache. So, I got up and took a pill then another and another. But 1 realized that it’s a big headache and I felt the ache movin’ downward and inward, so I took some more, some more pins until the bottle was empty. I lay down wit my knees to my chest, naked, and prayed for sleep, a deep sleep, but my eyes wouldn’t close. Then I got up to play my mother’s favorite song. Instead of going back to my bed I laid there on the floor next to the speakers so that I could feel as well as hear the Lady Sings the Blues—Miss Billie Holiday. I hated the blues when I was young; all that boohooin’ and cryin’ about how some man has done me wrong made me sick and pained me like a woman givin’ birth. And I wondered as a child how can I so Black be blue. But flow I’m a woman and I know that blue ain’t a color and it ain’t just a feeling neither, but all feelings confused tyin’ you up like a knot and you struggle to get free. I felt so light as if I could lie upon the dust that was floatin’ in the air. My ache is gone and I remember my Momma now. They say that my Momma’s crazy because she walks the streets barefooted and sometimes naked. They don’t understand that she had seen the man that she loved hangin’ from a tree with a rope around his neck, hangin’ like a rag doll a symbol for the other Black men to see. She’s not crazy just sick and tired and her mind is too heavy for her body and that’s why she’s a little off balanced. I tried to tell the doctors that she’s not ill but just tired and then they took her away from me and put her into a white room where the walls were cushioned, so she could sleep lyin’ down or standin’ up. I thought she would at least be comfortable. It’s funny how when your eyes can no longer see what’s right in front of you the other senses try to take its place. I can hear now because my eyes no longer can see and Billie Holiday is singin’ to me. What’s that Miss Holiday, ‘God bless the child’ but I don’t feel blessed. Blessings are for the holy and all these men had taken somethin’ from me so I’m no longer whole. What’s that Billie, “God bless the child that got its own” but I don’t own nothin’ because they all had stolen from me, my mother too because she had taken my time away from me, had me runnin’ around town chasin’ her so I could cover her up and cover my shame. I needed a man to keep me company because insanity goes hand in hand with loneliness. I feel now tired and alone and I can feel the blues fillin’ up the spaces where my possessions used to be—the valuable things that were stolen from me, I feel the sleep creepin’ up on me and I can hear Billie Holiday introducin’ herself to my soul and they sing a song together. I’m so tired but I feel so light like floatin’ around like live musical notes on a page. I feel sleep comin’ on and

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criminal minded CRIME NOVELIST CHESTER HIMES: THE ORIGINAL
by Michael Marsh
Long before he thought of becoming a novelist, Chester Himes was a budding criminal. Himes’s approach to his first vocation, and his later writing, was simple and direct. In November 1928, he walked into the house of an elderly couple in Cleveland Heights, Ohio and fled in their Cadillac with some cash and a fistful of jewelry. He planned to pawn the jewels at a shop in Chicago’s Loop. Once he arrived at the pawnshop, however, the police were called, and Himes was arrested. At the station, detectives bound his feet, handcuffed his wrists behind his back, and pistolwhipped him before turning him over to a Cleveland Heights detective. He was given a 20-year sentence in the Ohio State Penitentiary. During the seven and a half years he served, Himes would write the short stories that launched his literary career. Despite having these prison stories published in national magazines, once he was back on the street, Himes had to eke out a living at such jobs as waiter and sewer digger. With the start of World War II, Himes and his first wife, Jean Johnson, moved to Los Angeles, where he worked in shipyards, and shoveled gravel and sand. In 1945, he completed his first novel, If He Hollers Let Him Go, a story of racism in the workplace, but the book, like many of his novels, was a commercial failure. The youngest of three sons, Himes was born in Jefferson City, Missouri, in 1909 to parents who were radically different from each other. His father, Joseph, was darkskinned in a racially explosive era. He was a friendly, almost obsequious man who taught mechanical arts at Black colleges in the South. Himes’s mother, Estelle, was a housewife who studied music in a Philadelphia conservatory. She taught Chester and his brother, Joseph Jr., at home for a few years after the family moved to Mississippi, because she felt the elementary schools there were not good enough. A fair-skinned woman, she was fiercely proud of being part White. Himes inherited both her pride as well as her hatred of racism. In the first volume of his autobiography, The Quality of Hurt, he wrote: “My father was born and raised in the tradition of the Southern Uncle Tom; that tradition derived from an inherited slave mentality, which accepts the premise that White people know best, that Blacks should accept what Whites offer and be thankful, that Blacks should count their blessings. My mother, who looked White and felt that she should have been White, was the complete opposite...She was a tiny woman who hated all manner of condescension from White people and hated all Black people who

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accepted it.” The couple’s personality differences created bitter arguments. When Himes was about 12 years old, his father took a teaching job at Branch Normal College in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, soon after a tragedy took place that profoundly shaped Himes’s view of race relations. Himes had misbehaved––”perhaps said a ‘swear word’ in my mother’s presence, or was disobedient, or ‘sassed’ her”––and his mother made him sit out a gunpowder demonstration that he and his brother were supposed to conduct during a school assembly. Working alone, Joseph mixed the chemicals; they exploded in his face. Rushed to the nearest hospital, the blinded boy was refused treatment. “That one moment in my life hurt me as much as all the others put together,” Himes wrote in The Quality of Hurt. “I loved my brother. I had never been separated from him and that moment was shocking, shattering, and terrifying. We pulled into the emergency entrance of a White people’s hospital. White clad doctors and attendants appeared. I remember sitting in the back seat with Joe watching the pantomime

being enacted in the car’s bright lights. A White man was refusing; my father was pleading. Dejectedly my father turned away; he was crying like a baby. My mother was fumbling in her handbag for a handkerchief; I hoped it was for a pistol.” Estelle Himes took her injured son to Saint Louis for treatment; Chester and his father followed several months later. But Joseph Himes couldn’t find work, so he moved the family to Cleveland, where his brother and two sisters lived. At 17, Chester graduated from high school and worked as a busboy at the Wade Park Manor hotel to earn money for college. One day, while leaning against a faulty elevator door, he fell down the shaft and broke his left arm, jaw, and three lower vertebrae. After investigators concluded the hotel was at fault, Wade Park officials offered to continue Himes’s $50-a-month salary in exchange for signing a waiver not to sue. Himes, who was also granted a disability pension from the state of Ohio, followed his father’s advice and signed the waiver. When his mother found out, she angrily confronted the

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hotel’s management, who then reneged on the deal. His parents argued over the situation––Estelle called her husband “spineless”––and their relationship deteriorated, ending in divorce in 1928. Himes recovered well enough to enroll at Ohio State University in Columbus, but the predominantly White environment “depressed” him. He neglected his studies, failing most of his subjects during his first quarter. He was finally expelled, not because of poor grades but for taking several Black schoolmates to a whorehouse, because he thought they were acting too proper or “White.” With no classes to attend, Himes devoted himself to gambling, drinking, and smoking opium. He started to commit burglaries and robberies. His foray into crime landed Himes in prison at the age of 19, yet the experience didn’t slow him down. He helped oversee the convicts’ gambling activities, settling disputes and paying off the guards. In The Quality of Hurt he recalled some of the violence he witnessed in prison. “Two Black convicts cut each other to death over a dispute as to whether Paris was in France or France in Paris. I saw another killed for not passing the bread. In the school dormitory, a convict slipped up on another while he was sleeping and cut his throat to the

bone; I was awakened by a gurgling scream to see a fountain of blood spurting from the cut throat onto the bottom of the mattress of the bunk overhead.” When he disobeyed guards, he suffered whippings to his head, periods in solitary confinement, and starvation rations. But with his mother’s encouragement, he began to write short stories. He submitted his work to Black newspapers and magazines like Abbott’s Monthly and the Pittsburgh Courier. Then in 1934, Esquire published his short stories “Crazy in the Stir” and “To What Red Hell.” According to the biography, The Several Lives of Chester Himes, his success earned him some respect from his fellow inmates. After his parole in 1936, Himes lived with his mother, who had moved to Columbus to be near the prison and also to help his brother Joseph while he studied at Ohio State. But Himes picked up where he had left off. His mother discovered he’d been smoking marijuana and reported him to his parole officer, who then sent him to live with his father in Cleveland. The change of environment, which separated him from his cronies, helped Himes. He started working again and resumed writing. In 1937 he married Jean Johnson. Eight years later, he finished If He Hollers Let Him Go. Himes spent the next two years completing his second novel, Lonely Crusade, about the struggles of a Black union organizer. The book was another commercial failure. Himes began to feel sorry for himself; he blamed his first two publishers for not promoting his books. He also suffered with feelings of inadequacy because his wife was able to secure management-level jobs. After fifteen years of marriage he and Jean separated. The following year he boarded a ship for France and dedicated the next few years to travel, drinking, and women. In late 1956, Himes wrote, “my main occupation was the search for money.” While hitting up publishers for any royalties that may have been owed to him, he met Marcel Duhamel, a publisher of pulp fiction who persuaded him to write a detective novel. Duhamel

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gave Himes $125 on the spot and later came up with another $1,000. The first of his detective stories, The Five-Cornered Square, introduced his two most famous characters, Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, Black detectives who must walk a tightrope, working on a mostly White police force and battling criminals in Harlem. The Five-Cornered Square told the story of a Harlem man who falls for a female con artist; the book won France’s La Grand Prix du Roman Policier for the best detective novel of 1957. Five-Cornered marked a turning point in Himes’s life. Plagued by financial problems for much of his writing career, he accused U.S. publishers of not paying him royalties while he was in France. At last he found an agent, Rosalyn Targ, who helped him get paid for his work. And he reached some stability in his personal life by settling down in 1962 with Lesley Packard, a White Englishwoman who worked as a librarian and wrote a shopping column for the Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune. Six years later, they moved to Moraira, Spain, and married in 1978 after Himes finally divorced his first wife. Cynical to the end, Himes believed people were capable of anything. In To What Red Hell, a fictional account of a fire he witnessed in prison, two inmates encounter a dead convict lying on the ground and decide to rifle his pockets. John A. Williams acknowledged Himes’s tough side in the introduction to his 1969 interview with the writer, later collected in the book Conversations With Chester Himes: “He is a fiercely independent man and has been known to terminate friendships and conversations alike with two well-chosen, one-syllable words.” His prose is blunt and unflinchingly harsh. He could be violent. In both volumes of his autobiography he admits to striking women. He could also be charming; his friends were loyal. And he could be tenacious; he was known for his willpower. After a publisher printed 400 limited-edition copies of Himes’s novel A Case of Rape in 1980, he spent several days signing copies, even though he could barely move due to brain damage caused by

a stroke. Himes used writing as a form of therapy; focusing on the struggles of Black male characters that ranged from losers or victims defeated by Whites to strong men who occasionally triumphed over obstacles. Racial conflict was always is a central theme. In his second autobiographical volume, My Life of Absurdity, he argued that racism not only psychologically damages Blacks but also causes bizarre events in their lives. “If one lives in a country where racism is held valid and practiced in all ways of life, eventually, no matter whether one is a racist or a victim, one comes to feel the absurdity of life... Racism generated from Whites is first of all absurd. Racism creates absurdity among Blacks as a defense mechanism.” He defended the use of violence in his work by arguing that America is violent. It’s often been said that he depicted Whites and light-skinned Black women negatively because of his unresolved feelings toward his mother. This seems especially clear in his most autobiographical novels. In The Third Generation, the light-skinned mother calls her darker-complexioned husband a “nigger.” The protagonist in Mama’s Missionary Money finds a “place in the sun” the wrong way. He starts stealing money from his mother’s bag to buy food and gifts for his friends in a southern town. He knows his mother will eventually find out the money is gone, but he can’t stop once he becomes popular with his friends. “He wouldn’t think about what was going to happen when it was all gone. He was king of the neighborhood. He had to keep on being king.” At the end of the story, his parents discover the money is missing and both whip him simultaneously. Dick Small, the main character in Himes’s story “Headwaiter,” has achieved some status as a supervisor of waiters in a hotel dining room. But he pays a psychological, rather than physical, price––he has to work hard to keep his composure while serving demanding White customers. The enforced docility corrupts his very being. Himes describes Small’s appearance after he fires another one of the waiters. “Then he shook it (continued on page 44)

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Salvation: Black People and Love by bell hooks William Morrow Reviewed by Kelwyn Wright
From the introduction, “Love Is Our Hope,” to the final chapter, “Loving justice,” bell hooks’s new collection of essays, Salvation, takes us on a guided tour of the detritus of the emotion formally known as Love. Starting with the curious institution of slavery and the Middle Passage to the current hip-hop nation of mutual disrespect, hooks uses autobiographical asides, and quotes everything from the slave narratives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs to the pop psychology of M. Scott Peck to bolster the thesis encapsulated in the first sentence of chapter nine: “There has never been a time in this nation when the bonds of love between Black women and men have not been under siege.” Chapter Nine is titled “Heterosexual Love––Union

and Reunion,” and part of the problem with Salvation is that it takes 154 pages to get there. hooks’s exhaustive and often pedantic scholarship is as impressive as it is daunting, especially in the first third of the book, which reads more like a doctoral thesis than a collection of essays. The book picks up steam and momentum when hooks steps away from her note cards and begins to quote herself rather than her laundry list of authors, philosophers and pop psychologists. In chapter eight, “Loving Black Masculinity––Fathers, Lovers, Friends,” hooks gives us a snippet of her memoir Bone Black where she says of her grandfather, “His smells fill my nostrils with the scent of happiness.” This prose is simple, poetic and to the point––something Salvation often is not. So much of this book feels like intellectual vamping filler (i.e., my-scholarship-is-bigger-than-your-scholarship) that when hooks lays down her professorial mantle and just tells us something, the effect is both bracing and informative.

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Salvation is at its best when hooks gets personal. After her glowing homage to her grandfather, hooks tells us it wasn’t until college, after reading novels, sociological and psychological literature, that she learned “Black men were irresponsible, lazy, and unwilling to assume responsibility for their families.” In chapter nine, she talks about one of her own long-term relationships in which the male respected her rights, and with whom she had open and honest communication, yet his friends ridiculed him for being “whipped.” She goes on to share how “sexist thinking” undermined this relationship. This resonates with the reader much more than a quote from Erich Fromm or Nathaniel Branden. Which is not to say hooks does not offer some cogent insights. She encourages us to redeem and extol the single mothers among us and to embrace our homosexual brothers and sisters. She also reminds us that Malcolm X was not assassinated at the height of his powers, when he was advocating militant armed struggle for the powers-that-be, “understood fully that if violence was the order of the day the state would always prevail.” Her supposition is that he did not become dangerous to the state until he began to oppose imperialism and critique violence as an engine of change.

Desirada by Maryse Conde Soho Press Reviewed by Kimberly Burgess
Maryse Conde’s Desirada contextualizes, like so many other Caribbean novels, the difficult relationship between a mother and daughter. Like Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John, it explores the maternal bond from adolescence to adulthood, and like Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory, a revelation on sexuality, Desirada is rumination on these issues. It tries to make sense of the mother-daughter relationship by exploring its complexity. Conde‚ relates our mother’s identity to our own. If we don’t know our mother, we don’t know ourselves, or similarly the

proverb, “if you don’t know where you’re coming from, you won’t know where you’re going.” Having realized this at an early age, Marie-Noelle, Desirada’s narrating thirty-something, has a burning desire to know her mother. Unfortunately, this means searching for herself in the illusive identity of Reynalda. Desirada takes us to the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe where a slave past and marginalized present fix one’s life possibilities. In the case of Reynalda, the child of a maid in the house of Gian Carlo Coppini, not much is expected. Guadeloupe remained a French colony where African women are subordinate to whites, men, and the law. Although Reynalda excels in school, the possibilities of advancing her education are slim. She is poor, and at 15, pregnant. So she throws herself into the Caribbean Sea. Enter Ranelise who, spying Reynalda’s buoying body, fishes her out, nurses her to health, and helps birth Marie-Noelle. Reynalda then flees to Paris to make something of her life, and in a typical Caribbean migration, sends for her daughter ten years later. In Guadeloupe, Marie-Noelle is happy. Ranelise is the perfect surrogate mother who showers her with love. But the unknown identity of her father and absence of her mother leave a void. When she finally meets her mother in Paris, a stoic and distant Reynalda greets Marie-Noelle. It is not the tearful reunion Marie-Noelle has imagined; Paris is as much a stranger as is her mother. By connecting Marie-Noelle’s fragmented relationship with Reynalda to her migration from Guadeloupe, Conde shows that Marie-Noelle is not only on a quest for individual identity, but a cultural one as well. Guadeloupe is her cultural reference, the median between Africa and the West. Although she speaks French, France is foreign. For Marie-Noelle, leaving home means leaving the motherland; leaving patois means losing the mother tongue; leaving Ranelise is like leaving a mother. In Desirada, a mother is not only a physical being, but also a spiritual presence, a figurative home, a form of expression. If personalities, like history, repeat, they are inherited. Marie-Noelle has no intention of becoming Rey-

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nalda. She wants to be capable of love and loving. Knowing the story of her conception and her mother’s shame will give her a definition. “Reynalda was perhaps the real reason she couldn’t point her life in the right direction,” Marie-Noelle theorized. “Because I had no idea of the legacy I was paying for.” As the reader travels Marie-Noelle’s insomniac search for identity and a mother’s love, a sense of hopelessness prevails. The characters involved in helping solve the puzzle tell her to be happy. She has an education, health, and a blessed life, she has fulfilled the Western dream-yet Marie-Noelle knows there is more to be desired.

pregnant by her longtime boyfriend. Anne-Marie’s pregnancy is unplanned and when she has to break the news to the people closest to her, fireworks begin. Anne-Marie and Colleen are at a crossroads and have to make decisions that may alter their life paths. The struggle to break destructive life cycles and find one’s voice is the prevailing theme in A Fool’s Paradise. And while this first-time novelist seems a bit melodramatic at times, accessible characters make this novel a quick, enjoyable read.

A Fool’s Paradise by Nancy Flowers Wilson Flowers in Bloom Publishing Reviewed by Tricia Baird
Ms. Wilson’s coming-of-age tale unfolds on the island of Jamaica, in the small town of Cambridge; a place where everybody knows each other and secrets are impossible to keep. At nineteen, Anne-Marie Saunders seems to have everything going for her. She comes from a well-respected middle-class family, lives in a nice home and has always been a straight “A” student. She is the “star” in her father’s eyes, yet her mother prefers the company of Anne-Marie’s younger sister, Nadine. There is an intense rivalry between the sisters and Wilson gives a very realistic depiction of their struggles. For Anne-Marie’s best friend, Colleen, life has been less than ideal. She has grown up without her father, who left when she was very young, and as does the rest of the town, she believes that her mother drove him away with her terrible ways. Her mother has made life so difficult that Colleen leaves to live with her aunt in a neighboring town. In Anne-Marie’s last year of studying pre-med at the University of the West Indies she discovers she is

Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture by Elizabeth Chin University of Minnesota Press Reviewed by Lynne d. Johnson
The media often depicts Black, inner-city, low-income youth and their relationship to consumer culture as nefarious and label conscious. In essence, mainstream newspapers, magazines, and television news report that Black kids will do anything–steal, sell drugs, and even kill–to wear the latest fashions. But in anthropologist Elizabeth Chin’s Purchasing Power, we see a contrasting view of young Black consumers who are media savvy, socially conscious, have strong race identity and possess a keen sense of self worth–albeit mostly in terms of dollar amounts. Chin spent two years conducting field research in Newhallville, a predominantly African-American neighborhood in New Haven, CT, interviewing poor and working-class ten-year-olds and their families. She spent time in the children’s classrooms and homes, and took them on shopping trips. From her research, Chin weaves a history of African-American consumer culture and New Haven’s economic and residential patterns within the fabric of what defines reality for the young consumers who live in Newhallville. Full of personal anecdotes, comparative data and data analysis, and references to past ethnographic work, Purchasing Power is an insightful assessment of the consumer behaviors of African-American youth.

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“What I saw repeatedly underscored that for these children consumption entails the negotiation of intimate and complex terrains of obligation, reciprocity, need, and desire. Fantasy was, of course, a significant dimension of children’s consumer lives,” says Chin in summarizing her study. “The overall tenor of these children’s consumer lives, however, emphasized self-control, realistic assessment of personal and family resources, and contributions to the assessment of personal and family resources, and contributions to the household––especially to mothers and grandmothers.” Chin took the young people in her study on shopping trips and gave each child $20 to spend in any manner they wished. One observation she made was that although the children talked about branded items, they often looked for bargains. She also found that shopping was a social experience. For instance, for all, a visit to the mall was an opportunity to experience freedom from the watchful eye of a caretaker and for girls, there was also a chance to scout for cute boys. Many of the youth made purchases based upon relationships with caretakers, siblings, and peers; however, there were often gender differences in purchasing behaviors. While girls tended to buy gifts for other members of their families, boys mainly bought items for themselves, or items that they could use with peers. Need, as opposed to want, was also a central component to shopping choices made. As for racial delineation, Chin notes that the youth presented a more reserved and respectful attitude when in the neighborhood grocer, owned by a black man, than when at the mall. It was as if once they stepped out of their own neighborhood they were performing, acting how others expected them to act. One girl even screamed out to a car with white passengers, “What are you looking at white people?” Chin makes profound discoveries about the formation of African-American youth as consumers, shaped by the effects of slavery, the impact of ethnic targeted advertising, and the knowledge of their financial care. It would be interesting to see what consumer habits develop once her sample becomes teenaged, or even

adult. Overall, Purchasing Power, although primarily an academic read, is written clearly and passionately, making it accessible to a wide audience and a mandatory read for all journalists who cover the urban youth beat.

Honky by Dalton Conley University of California Press Reviewed by John Roper
What could a white social scientist possibly add to a perspective of growing up in a predominately African American and Latino experience? The question is probably equal to asking, which fork should be used first, salad or dinner? For Dalton Conley, being raised in one of New York City’s Lower Eastside housing projects has earned him the right to create a utensil through which his perspective can be digested, as such, Honky is a self-conscious coming-of-age story. Conley’s struggling father, an artist and an aspiring writer mother find camaraderie in the city’s sub-culture during the late 1960s. Their influence, along with the impact of a vibrant Asian, African American and Latino cultural mosaic affect not only his perspective of the world but also his identity as a White person in the context of that perspective. These experiences result in more than just your run-of-the-mill bio/memoir––instead the reader is presented with an interesting case study of racial and class divides in American. When much of his experience seems to stem from the “us vs. them” stereotypical sensibility, how deep can one really dig while wearing a scientist’s hat? At close inspection, Conley’s style paints a picture of sociological urban theory in a way that is not patronizing or pretentious. His method is likened to a loosening of the tie and unbuttoning of the jacket to open the sociological sphere of his experience. Rather than being a self-righteous diatribe about another White boy’s advantageous ways around the (continued on page 32)

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EXILED IN CUBA ASSATA SHAKUR SHADOW GROWS LARGER WITH EACH PASSING YEAR. WE REVIEW THE ONLY CONNECTION WE HAVE TO THE REVOLUTIONARY, HER AUTOBIOGRAPHY
by Deatra Haime

assata revisited

My name is Assata Shakur, and I am a 20th century escaped slave. Because of government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the U.S. government’s policy towards people of color. I am an ex-political prisoner, and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984. – An Open Letter from Assata Shakur, 1998 When Assata Shakur’s triumphant and compelling autobiography showed up in Mosaic Magazine’s mailbox recently, we wondered if it was an updated edition that included new information, revitalized insights or a postscript of her life since her story first appeared in 1987. But other than a new forward by Angela Davis, Assata’s tale remains the same stunning discourse on the madness of U.S. political policy and the daring but vital Black revolutionary resistance of the 1960s and 1970s. Sadly, hers is still not a story of resolution and healing. Seventeen years later, she remains a political refugee (and according to the state of New Jersey, an escaped convict) living in Cuba—safe only as long as Fidel Castro continues to grant her asylum and money-hungry bounty hunters can’t find her. In 1977, Assata was convicted of murdering both New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster and her friend Zayd Malik Shakur after their car (which included Assata, Zayd and their comrade Sundiata Acoli) was stopped for supposedly having broken taillights. The facts of what happened that night refute her guilt; during trial testimony a second trooper admitted killing Zayd and evidence showed that Assata was shot once with her arms in the air and a second time from the back–yet

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she was sentenced to life plus 33 years after being tried by an all-white jury. In 1979, she was “liberated” from prison by Black Liberation Army comrades and fled to Cuba. Understandably, she offers no details of the escape but clearly feels her conviction was not only a miscarriage of justice but a systematic and deliberate attempt by the U.S. government to silence voices raised against its intentional destruction of resistance movements led by people of color. As a member of the Black Panther Party, she had long been a target of the government’s Counter-intelligence Program. Her conviction and allegations waged against her were not the end results of justice but rather insidious attempts by white American bureaucracy to subvert any and all attempts to revolutionize U.S. political policy of racism and violence against people of color. After these many years in exile, her plight continues. New Jersey is still seeking her return to the U.S. In 1997, state police wrote a letter to the Pope, who was visiting Cuba, asking for his assistance in having her extradited back to New Jersey. The letter was never made public, but Assata also wrote to the Pope informing him of the details of both her case and the true state of America’s racist policies against people of color.

In early 1998, during the Pope’s visit, she agreed to do an interview with NBC journalist Ralph Penza to speak to the many issues surrounding her case. Instead of a fair, balanced piece, the result was a three-part story filled with what she says were “distortions, inaccuracies and outright lies” (see Open Letter from Assata Shakur at Blackmind.com). In addition to a mangled representation of the facts, a weighted perspective from the dead trooper’s family, and photographs of a gun-wielding woman purported to be (but was not) Assata, there was a lengthy interview with then New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman who claimed that Assata’s case has “nothing to do with race, (it) has everything to do with crime.” Whitman later went on to secure a reward of $25,000 for her capture, which has now been raised to $50,000. To this day, Assata is listed on the New Jersey State Police’s 12 Most Wanted list. Given the highly sensitive issues surrounding her life and whereabouts, it is amazing that we still hear news of Assata; yet committed journalists and concerned supporters journey to Cuba, seek her out and continue to tell her story. There are several interviews online: Karen Wald’s in 1998 appears on the Inter(continued on page 49)

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projects, Conley makes no apologies for who he is and who he has become as a result. Honky should be the next book on your literary plate if you want an up-close and personal tale of race and class and the notion of White privilege in America.

Bloodroot by Aaron Roy Even St. Martin’s Press Reviewed by Nathasha Brooks-Harris
Bloodroot is Aaron Roy Even’s powerful debut. This award-winning novel explores a subject that has been swept under the rug for far too long; the theft of land owned by Black Southerners by greedy Whites. Based on an actual event, Bloodroot explores this issue with truth and dignity. The story takes place in a small Virginia town, and revolves around William Wesley, an elderly Black caretaker and his sister, Cora. Together they fight for their land against the town’s White inhabitants, who make it known that they want the Wesley’s land. Enter Elsa Childs, a young, idealistic, White employee of the county. Her job is to remove the Wesleys off their land, but she also has a heart. The county is desperate to get Wesley’s land so that a turpentine plant can be built, but William and Cora want no part of the deal nor one penny of the county’s blood money. While the county politicians are persistent, Elsa throws every trick she knows into the mix, hoping that they will change their minds. Finally, a standoff ensues and ends with a violent episode that forces all sides to make difficult decisions. The aptly titled, Bloodroot, refers to the name of the plant whose roots bleed red when it is cut. This fine work of historical fiction contains a wealth of facts and information about what life was like for Southern Black landowners in the late 1930s. Various events are both alluded to and examined; namely the most

popular legal ploys Whites used to keep land out of the hands of Blacks. Restrictive covenants, which were legal documents included in the title of the land that maintained White ownership for generations. Such documents could only be reversed by a lineal descendent of the person who initiated the covenant––this was a sure way to keep Black sharecroppers from owning the land. Aaron Roy Even puts this legal theft into context and allows readers to experience the sociological and moral issues that surrounded these legal disputes over land ownership. He has created a plot that transports readers back to rural Depression-era Virginia and gives them an intimate glimpse into life at the time. Take note of Even, this initial effort offers promise of more to come.

Further to Fly: Black Women and the Politics of Empowerment by Shelia Radford-Hill University of Minnesota Press Reviewed by Lynne d Johnson
It seems that in Black women’s struggle for civil rights, they’ve often had to choose between fighting for justice as Black people and fighting for justice as women. Since the 60s, many would argue that much has been achieved in both regards and therefore, Black women really only need to ride one side of the fence—that side, of course, being the cause of Black folks enfranchisement within society. But for Shelia Radford-Hill, an educator and activist whose work has centered on economic development and educational policy issues, Black feminism is about building the community. In Further to Fly, Radford-Hill develops a solid case for Black women to engage in authentic feminism, which she says, “…supports local community activism and affirms the values represented by feminism both as in interpretive framework and as a historical tradition of women’s intellectual and social action.” “Authentic feminism,” she argues, “may renew Black

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women’s activism and reclaim their traditional roles as builders of the community.” For Black women, feminism ain’t been no crystal stair. The original women’s movement was racist and Black nationalists saw Black feminists as separatists. Somehow, the movement rode out much of that backlash, especially in letters–and much of that work continues today. Yet, the efforts of these Black feminist theorists–bell hooks, Michelle Wallace, et al.—alienates Black women cultural workers within our communities, leaving them far removed from the academic-speak of feminist theory. Especially in these times of the “all about me,” sensibility, how do you get women involved in feminist work? RadfordHill presents a well-documented plan that proposes inclusion. A short, but sometimes dull read, Further to Fly is often loaded with language that is as inaccessible to poor and working-class women as that of the theorists that Radford-Hill says must embrace authentic feminism. Perhaps this book was meant for them, the theorists, cultural critics, and academics; especially when you consider that most women doing cultural, social, and activist work in poor and working-class communities don’t even consider themselves feminist. Not to discredit Radford-Hill’s efforts, but when the feminist theorists and community workers are disconnected from one another, is a book such as Further to Fly enough to bridge the gap? Certainly she thinks it will. “Reclaiming feminist values moves feminist theorizing backward toward its activist roots and forward to new theoretical insight and better ways of using a deeper knowledge of the world to change it,” writes Radford-Hill in Chapter One. In Chapter Seven, she talks about a new feminist leadership for the new century, but doesn’t explain how to go about it. This vagueness continues throughout much of the book, as many of its suggestions are explored from an ideological perspective as opposed to an active one. Since Radford-Hill is about the business of doing community building, she might be too deeply entrenched in both theorizing and active work to see the difference.

In the end, Further to Fly comes off more as an insightful, analytical, and critical tome than it does as a set of solutions.

Love on Trial: An American Scandal in Black and White by Earl Lewis & Heidi Ardizzone W.W. Norton & Company Reviewed by Akilah Monifa
The artist now known as Prince sang it best: “Are you black or white? Controversy ...” And that is the thrust of this true story which centers on an annulment trial in White Plains, New York from 1924 to 1925. The Supreme Court eventually ruled that laws forbidding interracial marriages were illegal, but that didn’t occur until the 1960s. In 1924, interracial marriages were illegal in 28 states, but not in New York. Of course legality and acceptability are two separate things. Alice Jones and Leonard Rhinelander met, fell in love, and married, but shortly after, Rhinelander instituted an annulment action claiming that the marriage was in fact fraudulent, as he had been duped into believing that Jones was like himself, White. The headlines in both White and African American newspapers were consumed with the racial, class and sexual implications of the marriage. Because of the union, Jones became the first woman of African descent to be listed in New York’s Social Register, as the Rhinelanders were one of the state’s wealthiest families. Born in England to a White mother and a West Indian father. Jones confused many since she was light skinned and according to newspaper accounts “didn’t look Black.” Though one headline blared: “Rhinelander’s Son Marries Daughter of Colored Man,” Jones did not speak much about race and in fact did not testify during the case. The trial revealed factual admission about her being “colored” or a “Negress;” and the all-White, all-male jury was allowed see her naked. Ultimately, they concluded she was clearly not White

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but it was also widely acknowledged that she “simply lived in the space between the absolutes.” Rhinelander died in the 1930s and Jones in 1989, never reconnecting after their brief liaison. The authors not only focus on the trial, but also on the more important issues of the era: how race, class, sexuality, and interracial relationships were viewed. Lewis and Ardizzone provide a fantastic lens to view this complicated issue through the former “trial of the century.”

building the tension and suspense throughout the narrative. The reader is allowed to peel back layers, but it isn’t until the end that we understand the true horror and redemption in the telling of this story. Racism, ignorance, and poverty are pervasive themes throughout and Ross skillfully weaves them into the plot. The novel makes a seldom spoken of link between these themes and the aforementioned mental illness. On this level alone the book succeeds by being absorbing, repulsive and thought provoking—a rare feat.

Orange Laughter by Leone Ross Farrar, Straus and Giroux Reviewed by Tricia Baird
This is a dark, searing novel about a painful life journey, encompassing the memories of a man who refuses to remember. The narrative criss-crosses between present day New York City and North Carolina, in 1962, where it all begins. Tony, the protagonist, is a homeless man suffering from mental illness, who dwells in the bowels of the New York City subway system. Ross takes the reader into Tony’s world of freaks and misfits who live with him under the subway tracks and tunnels. The small cast of characters includes a man who works to will himself into being a hermaphrodite, and Chaz, Tony’s underage drug-addicted companion of the moment. The author’s some times muddled handling of Tony’s mental illness makes the story hard to follow at times, but as the story unfolds, understanding Tony becomes a matter of course. In between violent episodes, we learn of his childhood in Edene, North Carolina, and gradually we find out about the ghost of Agatha, a monster who makes his existence a living nightmare. Though she is central to the story, it isn’t easy to understand why he is haunted by her. Tony has internalized his hurt and pain all of his adult life and the price he and everyone around him pays is high. Ross unfolds the story slowly,

Reyita: The Life of a Black Cuban Woman in the Twentieth Century by Maria de los Reyes Castillo Bueno, as told to her daughter Daisy Rubiera Castillo Duke University Press Reviewed by Angeli R. Rasbury
Daisy Rubiera Castillo has written a loving memoir about her mother, which continues the legacy begun with her previous book, Black Women in Cuba: From the Sixteen to the Twentieth Centuries. Maria de los Reyes Castillo Bueno (1902 - 1997), affectionately known as “Reyita” begins her story with her grandmother’s abduction by slave traders in Africa. Describing herself as an ordinary person, she shares that her being the only Black daughter was an embarrassment for her mother. As a result, she never wanted to marry a Black man because she didn’t want children as dark as her, who would suffer the way she had. Instead she married Rubiera, a White man, though he was not her first love. What makes Reyita’s tale so compelling is her sensitivity and the information that she divulges. Participating in the life of the community in which she lived, she joined the Universal Negro Improvement Association–Marcus Garvey’s back-to-Africa movement, and cared for the children of prostitutes, in addition to her own eight children. The struggle for advancement, acceptance, her love for Cuba and her children are impressive chords

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in Reyita’s story. In the end, Reyita left me with a deep familial feeling that stayed long after I finished this important memoir.

If 6 were 9 by Jake Lamar Crown Publishers Reviewed by Kelwyn Wright
If 6 were 9, Jake Lamar’s facile, at times laughout-loud funny, and often hard-boiled comedy of manners masquerading as a murder mystery, paints former journalist Clay Robinette as a slacker, and a cheerful one at that. Having professed his “right to mediocrity” plus his “freedom to be as mediocre as any mediocre White person,” Robinette tumbled off the stepladder of middling success, and, at age thirtyone, has found himself settled into the comfortable rut of failure. Husband to his grade school sweetheart and the father of twins, Robinette is a professor of journalism and creative nonfiction at Arden University, a dull, mediocre Ohio-based college that aspires to be “hot” and “cutting edge.” The year is 1992, and Arden University has hired Reggie Brogus–which rhymes with “bogus”–to raise the profile of its nascent Afrikamerica Studies Department. Brogus, a former Black nationalist turned conservative cheerleader, is a publicity-seeking lightning rod and, not coincidentally, the gale force wind that eventually overturns Robinette’s tidy little apple cart of a life. It is 2:27 a.m. on a cold February morning when Robinette receives Brogus’ distress call. Brogus has a problem, there is a dead White coed draped on the leather couch in his office and she has been strangled with a pair of his trademark red-white-and-blue stars-and-stripes suspenders. What’s more, Brogus’s problem is Robinette’s problem because the dead girl, one Jennifer Ester Wolfshiem (her monogram is intentional) is Clay’s former student/lover. Brogus parlays his knowledge of Robinette’s tryst with “Pirate Jenny” into an early morning ride to the airport. As with everything else in his life, Robinette chickens

out about three-quarters there and makes Bogus get out to walk the rest of the way. It won’t be Robinette’s first failure of both nerve and conscience. Robinette’s practiced indifference as his life turns topsy-turvy–as the digits he believed to be sixes all turn out to be nines–challenge him to his very core. Jake Lamar takes the title from a Jimi Hendrixpenned song and his tale is a fuel-injected ride through the sixties and the glorified vanities of the 90s that form the core of the novel. No one is safe from Lamar’s satirical pen. There is the bombastic former beret-flaunting, pistol-wielding revolutionary turned pipe-sucking, red-suspendered neoconservative, Reginald T. Brogus; the righteous, kente-clothed Kwanzi Authenica Parker who happens to be married to ruddy-faced professor of British history, Roger Pym-Smithers; Arthur and Miltida Davenport, Arden’s own Ozzie Davis and Ruby Dee, and the university’s only black faculty members from 1952 until 1972; Xavier Lumbaki, native of Senegal, citizen of Paris, France, graduate of the Sorbonne––and husband to his French wife, Aurore. In addition, Lamar plays the name game as Brogus appears on The Rash Knoblauch Show. Other times Lamar’s brush is way broad as he conjures up organizations such as “Blackness As a Revolutionary Force”-BAARF-and names such as Brogus’ “African” name: Mkwame Obolobongo. Lamar proves to be a much better social satirist than he is a mystery writer, but one thing is for sure, after reading If 6 were 9, you will never look at the sixties, the nineties, Black FBI agents or the King assassination the same way again.

House of Light by Joyce Carol Thomas Hyperion Reviewed by L. Stewart

House of Light is a mostly wonderful journey through a small town community centered around a doctor’s special abilities for healing. Dr. Abyssinia Jackson is a church-going woman, like most women of the (continued on page 46)

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SMARTT MOUTH

WITH ROOTS IN ENGLAND AND BARBADOS POET DOROTHEA SMARTT IS EMERGING AS A NEW PASSIONATE VOICE ON THE WORLD POETRY SCENE.

by Angeli Rasbury

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It doesn’t matter how others define Dorothea Smartt. What matters is how she defines herself and her work. Renowned poet Kamau Braithwaite remarked about Smartt, “The Black Medusa of this new voice in Caribbean poetry, this Britishborn Bajan international, Dorothea Smartt … will tangle you up & burn you to stone.” Jackie Kay, author of Trumpet, says Smartt’s is a “bright, passionate voice.” Smartt began writing poetry when she was a little girl. “In my solitude, abandonment, I turned to my diary,” she explained. “It became a place where I expressed my thoughts and feelings, somewhat gingerly at first. The emotions around my sister leaving home generated one of my first conscious poems.” Smartt sat down with me in Keur ‘N Deye, a Senegalese restaurant in Brooklyn, NY while she was in town to work with her mentor, Obie Award-winning Robbie McCauley, and to read from her latest book, Connecting Medium. In July, Smartt, along with fellow Black British writers Kadija Sesay, Courttia Newland, and Leone Ross discussed their work at the Brooklyn Public Library in a panel sponsored by the library, the Nkiru Center for Education and Culture, the Charles L. Blockson Literary Collective and QBR: The Black Book Review. “My purpose in writing is to share and explore the very particular experiences of Black women in Britain, particularly my experience as a first generation, first born in the UK. My parents came to Britain from Barbados in the late 50s, early 60s. I was born in London and my work explores that reality to some extent.” When she was growing up, Smartt’s family “moved house” often. She said there were some outside social and political forces that were at play in that. “Between the ages of two and about eleven or so, we moved eight times and some of that was because of the condition of housing and some of the racist policies around housing. So my parents, like a lot of their

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generation, faced a lot of difficulty finding somewhere to live,” she explained. “There were explicit notices in windows saying ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish, No Children’, or something like that. So one particular time we moved was in fact due to a physical incident of racism that happened to my parents in our home. Our friendly neighbors decided to pay us a visit and we left shortly after that.” There are a couple of the poems in Connecting Medium, Smartt’s first book of poetry, that explore some of the times her family moved house. “Most of the time I think we were quite fortunate in that we were only technically homeless once,” she shared. “And the poem “Home” is about that time when we didn’t find somewhere the next morning. Usually we might leave where we’d been living in the morning but by the evening we’d be tucked up in bed in our new flat. Home is about one of the times where that didn’t happen. We ended up going to stay in a social services hostel.” Smartt does with poetry what a bridge does to land separated by bodies of water. She connects the past to the present, the Caribbean to England, herself with her Bajan roots. Connecting Medium, is about identity, culture and home. Many Black British writers continue to explore these themes. Nigerian-born Buchi Emecheta, who lives in England, has explored similar themes in her books, which include The Bride Price and The Joys of Motherhood. Fairly early on when she was reading her poetry, she started working with choreographers and dancers and other young artists. “We would put a performance together around an installation in an art gallery and places like that,” she said. “I did it one or two times, thinking this might be fun and really enjoyed it and thought this was something I would like to do but I couldn’t do it. I am just a little Black girl from Batersee and who wants to listen to what I’ve got to say anyway. I didn’t know anything about performing.” How wrong she was but it would be years before she realized people would listen to her. For a while she did other work. She had decided when she was six years old she was going to be a nurse. She left school and went into nursing. She lasted all of four months. “I hated it, she said. “And went off and did sociology at university, and poetry and performing was something I did on the side. It was something that I really enjoyed doing but nothing I thought I could make a

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living out of. I didn’t know that you could do that. I didn’t know until fairly late in my education that Black people wrote novels or poetry or anything like that. So it was all kind of new territory and it was a territory that I had to explore, map, navigate and come to know and understand as a terrain that I had every right to be in. That took time. Some of my work is about that process of becoming and being who you are in the face of a world that tells you, you are nothing and you’re nobody and you don’t really count for that much.” One of the first Black books that Smartt ever read was How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Ted Jones. “It was a groundbreaking social historical text that I liberated from the library and read. Reading that completely changed my world view. It was like I didn’t know. Nobody told me all of that. I was kind of shocked and horrified and understood some things better because of it.” Smartt began performing poetry in the 1980’s and embraced live art as a fertile arena in the 90’s. Her performance work, like her poetry, draws upon her experiences of being born and raised in England, her Bajan heritage and her exploration of issues of identity, belonging, bereavement and body image. Smartt has also delved into the hair story. One of the poems in Connecting Medium, “five strands of hair,” deals with the many issues around hair. “Fact: A chemical used to straighten African hair is called ‘lye’./ Fact: Black women spend a major part of their income fixing their hair.” When she read this poem and others in her book in July one could not help but bring up images of Dread Mary. Another reason that Smartt was in New York this summer lies in her commitment to work on her craft. Smartt received an award from Life Art Development Agency in England to come to the United States to work with her mentor, Obie Award-winning Robbie McCauley. Her poetry can also be found in the anthology IC3: The Penguin Book of Black Writing in Britain. 

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the publicity life
by Marika Flatt
Four years ago, upon graduating college, I began my job search in the communications field. I accepted a job as an assistant publicist with Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists. Inevitably, family and friends would ask, as they still do, “Where are you working?” The next question was and is always, “What do you do?” I have had to explain what I do as a literary publicist. And not just to family and friends. Even writers do not usually know what a literary publicist does. It’s true, most people do not grow up saying they want to become a book publicist. Probably because no one knows what one does. However, this wonderfully exciting job is where the heart lies for someone like me who has a passion for books, coupled with a passion for the media. After four promotions, I am now the National Media Director and believe I have the best job in the world. Part of my job is to speak to writers’ groups at conferences and discuss how to create a stellar publicity campaign for a book. I am no longer amazed that 9 out of 10 people in my workshops are hearing about literary publicity for the first time. I thrive on being able to unlock the mystery of publicity for them. I am easily excited by uncovering one more piece of the book publishing puzzle in their quest for bestseller stardom.

THE BOOK IS DONE, NOW THE SELLING BEGINS

Now, for a walk-through of the book publishing process. Writer completes manuscript. Writer finds agent to sell manuscript to publisher. Publisher agrees to publish book. Publisher edits copy, coordinates cover design, organizes production of galleys (review copies) and actual book, coordinates distribution to bookstores and other booksellers, then publicist takes over. The best time to secure a literary publicist is three to four months before the publication date, in order to allow for the maximum amount of time to organize the campaign. Nevertheless, many authors find a publicist about the same time that their book hits bookshelves. A typical campaign lasts six months and is orchestrated systematically. The publicist spend the first month developing strategy and press materials. Then we begin contacting book industry publications that require copies of the book prior to publication. We also begin to contact magazines with the longest lead times. The typical magazine requires a three-month lead-time. The publicist then begins contacting appropriate editors of daily newspapers and radio as well as television producers. Online media is typically the last segment of media to be contacted because they move at Internet speed and require little-to-no lead-time. After all appropriate media has been contacted, follow up begins. Follow-up is absolutely essential for the execution of any publicity campaign. Most media contacts receive

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hundreds of press releases a day and, typically, following up via phone is the only way to get yours noticed. We spend the final month of every campaign doing “sweeps”. Which requires follow-up with all media that were ever interested in the book or author. We make sure to leave no stone unturned. There are many benefits to hiring a publicist: 1. A publicist has the media contacts and relationships needed to secure interviews / reviews. 2. A publicist knows how to pitch your book to the media and how each journalist likes to be contacted. 3. Most writers do not have the time to devote to a publicity campaign. It is a full-time job. 4. When an author is pitching his own book, it is typically viewed as being too self-promotional. A publicist is seen as a third party and most journalists are more receptive to discussing a book with a publicist rather than the author. A publicist’s main job is media relations, scheduling interviews, book reviews and feature stories for a client. Occasionally, other services are offered, such as book tour coordination and promotion, media training and development of marketing materials. However, a publicist does not typically find agents, publishers or distributors for the book, schedule speaking engagements or coordinate travel arrangements for

a book tour. Publishers often outsource books to independent publicity firms. Due to the heavy volume of books that a publisher’s in-house publicity staff has to promote, by hiring an outside publicist, more time and energy can be devoted to individual titles. Some publishers have even dissolved their publicity departments and send all their titles to an outside publicity firm to handle the promotion efforts. The job of literary publicist is ideal for someone who loves the written word and has the desire to help writers have their story told. A recent statistic said that 150,000 books are written each year. Publicity is an integral step for any book that does not want to remain unpurchased and unheard of. A publicist lets the world know that the book exists and why they need to buy it. Not every book can be an Oprah book club selection, but we believe that every book we promote has an audience who needs to know about it. Remember, publicity is a marathon, not a sprint. We tell authors, “You didn’t write your book overnight and you won’t become famous overnight, either.” The process takes time. 

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all from his mind. It required a special effort. He blinked his eyes clear of the picture of a dejected Black face, donned his creased careful smile and pushed through the service hall into the dining room. His head was cocked to one side as though he were deferentially listening.” Himes based the novel If He Hollers Let Him Go on his periodic stints working in the Los Angeles shipyards. The lead character is a Black supervisor tormented by nightmares, which are caused by both his hatred and fear of Whites. After a White woman refuses to work with his all-Black crew, he gets demoted for cursing at her. The situation is further complicated by the pair’s mutual attraction. Near the end of the novel, the supervisor decides to put aside his fears, get married, apologize to his coworker, and ask for his old job back. Everything goes according to plan until he’s trapped alone in a room with the White woman. She falsely accuses him of rape, and he is beaten by a mob. He accepts a judge’s offer to enlist in the army in exchange for dropping the charges against him. Himes presents yet another absurd situation in the novel Run, Man, Run, which was based on an incident he witnessed in New York. The world of Jimmy, a Black waiter, turns upside-down after he finds the bodies of two co-workers who were gunned down by a White detective. Jimmy goes into hiding, but the detective manages to learn his whereabouts and even beds the waiter’s fiancée. Near the end of the book, the detective is confronted by his brother-in-law, another policeman, and confesses to the murders. He says he was drunk one night, forgot his car’s location, and falsely accused the men of stealing it because they were Black. He accidentally shot one of the men and then shot the other to cover up the crime. After the confession, the good cop kills the bad one. The novel provides a wonderful example of Himes’s grim, slightly macabre prose. Early in the story, the rogue detective shoots his first victim, who falls and upsets a tray of turkey gravy. The gravy lands on the victim’s head. The detective takes it in: “Poor bastard, he thought. Dead in the gravy he loved so well.” The Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones sto-

chester himes

ries were ostensibly pulp novels written for quick cash. But Himes later argued the novels represented his best work. He may be right; the series combines surreal circumstances with strong characters. In one novel from the series, The Real Cool Killers, Coffin Ed and Grave Digger search for the murderer of a White man who frequented Harlem’s seedier spots. They focus on a gang whose leader, Sheik, has kidnapped Coffin Ed’s daughter. The case appears to be wrapped up after Coffin Ed shoots Sheik, but Grave Digger figures out a young girl killed the White man because he was a child molester. Grave Digger stands up to the city’s police commissioner when shielding her identity. “I say the killer will never kill again and I’m not going to track him down even if it costs me my job.” In Cotton Comes to Harlem, the two detectives solve a series of murders committed by criminals trying to find a bale of cotton. The cotton contains $87,000 conned out of Harlem residents who think they’re buying tickets to Africa. The detectives catch the gangsters, but they never find the money. Yet they persist in trying to repay the residents. They accomplish this by blackmailing one of the murderers––a White man from Alabama. The Alabaman is shocked by their actions: “Incredible! You’re going to give them back their money?” ”That’s right, the families.” ”Incredible! Is it because they are nigras and you’re nigras too?” ”That’s right.” At the end of the novel, the detectives learn a junk collector found the money inside the cotton and migrated to Africa. Himes wrote the novel in 1965, during a period in which he began to reflect on his own life experience as well as the plight of Blacks in America. He argued that Blacks had to stay put and thrive. In the interview with Williams, Himes said, “The American Black man is very different from all those Black men in the history of the world because the American Black has even an unconscious feeling that he wants equality, whereas most of the Blacks of the world don’t particularly insist

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on having equality in the White community. But the American Black doesn’t have any other community. America, which wants to be a White community, is their community, and there is not the fact that they can go home to their own community and be the chief and sons of chiefs or what not. The American Black man has to make it or lose it in America; he has no choice. That’s why I wrote Cotton Comes to Harlem. In Garvey’s time, the ‘Back to Africa’ movement had an appeal and probably made some sense. But it doesn’t make any sense now. It probably didn’t make sense even then, but it’s even less logical now, because the Black people of America aren’t Africans anymore, and the Africans don’t want them.” Himes died in Moraira, Spain in November 1984. He spent his last months of his life worrying about his literary reputation. With little fanfare, Himes was posthumously honored in Chicago this October, when he was inducted into Chicago State University’s National Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent. He was not as well known or appreciated as most of his fellow honorees, distinguished writers such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin. His popular legacy may rest solely on his series of detective novels. But Himes produced 17 novels, more than 60 short stories, and two autobiographical volumes, revealing a unique knowledge of the dark side of human nature and the corrupting influence of racism. He believed in the basic brutality of man and, especially in his early works, man’s helplessness in the face of circumstances. Life is often a stacked deck. Himes retained this perspective throughout his career, perhaps because it evolved out of his own experience.  This article was reprinted courtesy of the Chicago Reader. http://www.chicagoreader.com

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reviews

town. Her office is known around Ponca City as the House of Light. Through her special spells delivered through songs, her patients find solutions to their problems and discover the true joy and strength in their lives. The novel opens with one woman, Zenobia, a blues singer with a mesmerizing voice, and her flight from a nightclub manager. Zenobia makes it clear that she doesn’t like to be touched and the manager made the mistake of putting his hands on her. After knocking him over the head, Zenobia runs home to Ponca City and to her best friend Pearline, whose husband beats her despite her having filed for divorce. Pearline’s neighbors, indeed the whole town, keep watch of Pearline in order to tell her husband if she has spoken to any men. Amazingly this church-going town doesn’t come to her aid and it is only Dr. Jackson who is able to help. The book takes an interesting turn when Dr. Jackson struggles to decide whether or not to treat Pearline’s abuser, Isaiah, for headaches. The story is written from various character perspectives and the details are tied up somewhere between them. While the characters are well-crafted and the storyline is engaging, there are a few moments where the story takes a left turn and isn’t as cohesive as the rest of the novel. This happens when Isaiah, former wife-beater, turns the local gang-banging teenagers into church-going community men in a matter of just a few pages. This part of the storyline goes adrift with no support or development. However, Isaiah’s past, like those of the other characters in this story, gets resolved with Dr. Jackson’s spells. He is able to reconcile with his father who beat him as a child. Still it seems, for Isaiah to move so quickly to redemption is a miracle. Ponca City is full of secrets, betrayals, sin and crime. House of Light is a wispy, joyful story that generally moves gracefully from page to page, like the spells in it.

Dr. Jackson’s own past also comes to a head in this tale and is a stunner. Despite a few off moments, House of Light is delightful and full of community spirit.

The Day Eazy-E Died by James Earl Hardy Alyson Books Reviewed by Thumper / AALBC.com
The Day Eazy-E Died is the fourth installment in James Earl Hardy’s B-Boy Blues series. And while E. Lynn Harris gets the credit for successfully featuring Black gay men in today’s contemporary African American fiction, James Earl Hardy must receive equal praise for developing satisfying relationships, whether the characters are homosexual or heterosexual. The Day Eazy-E Died continues the story of Rahiem and Mitchell that started in B-Boy Blues. The narrator, Rahiem, is becoming a successful model, and his relationship with Mitchell is solid. All is right until the news that one of his rap heroes, Eazy-E, has AIDS. The news turns Rahiem’s world upside down as he decides whether to take an AIDS test or not. While AIDS has become an issue directly affecting his life, other portions of Rahiem’s life continue in a normal fashion; how his six year old son is managing in a new school, his relationship with his father, and dealing with secrets that threaten his relationship with Mitchell. One admirable element of Hardy is he doesn’t fall into the trap of easy “Rainbow-Brite” outcome regarding the issues that Rahiem must face. A couple of these issues stem back to the first novel in the seriousness of keeping his homosexuality a secret from his mother and the mother of his child, and his relationship with his absentee father. Hardy realizes these issues cannot be resolved in 250 pages, and doesn’t try. The second interesting element is how Hardy takes time to develop Rahiem’s relationship with his young son, Lil Brotha Man. The fact the author did not make the son a cutesy little boy is also truthful. Making the relationship have a natural, appealing quality, yet is far from a “Father Knows Best” situation.

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Though the thinness of the book is slightly disappointing, Hardy’s grasp of all aspects of life is interesting and well worth giving this book your time.

Little Boys Come From the Stars by Emmanuel Dongala Farrar Straus Giroux Reviewed by L. Stewart
Have you heard you can’t judge a book by its cover? Yes? Well in this case it’s true. Little Boys Come From the Stars should be boring and dreary judging from its rather dull, muted jacket; instead it is a funny, coming-of-age story, albeit told very slowly. There are many facets to this tale, presented from the perspective of Matapari, a young African boy. Matapari, which means “trouble,” is named such because of his rather unusual birth. Born two days after his triplet brothers, Matapari’s birth convinces everyone in his village that he is no good. Matapari’s brothers are known as the “twins,” which is a constant reminder of the strange circumstances of their collective birth. The supporting characters in Matapari’s life all help to serve up a rich atmosphere for this political novel set in 1980 post-colonial Congo. Uncle Boula Boula is a rather greedy opportunistic man who is constantly striving to become important. Finally getting his wish, Boula Boula becomes the number two man in the Party with much influence and power. Matapari’s father, principal of the village school and a reclusive bookworm, says of Boula Boula, “Glory... has a ballistic trajectory: there comes a point when it reaches its peak and then the descent is unstoppable.” Such is Boula Boula’s fate when he is arrested on charges of corruption and attempting to overthrow the Supreme leader of the party. A sham of a trial follows and Boula Boula is thrown in prison with other socalled co-conspirators. Through it all, the family and Matapari watch the trial on television. This revs up Matapari’s father who begins a political campaign to free all political prisoners and demands a change in the

way the government is run. Matapari’s mother has gone to see about her brother, Boula Boula and returns a spiritually changed woman. She still holds her beliefs but this brush with the law and politics has altered her outlook. Violence erupts everywhere as a struggle for new political leadership takes place. Democracy rises as Matapari’s father has his own run-in with local soldiers that changes Matapari’s forming view of his land forever. His mother now has taken charge of the family as they struggle to free his father, Boula Boula and the rest of the political prisoners. In this chaos and turmoil, throughout the land and within the family, Matapari learns what it means to fight for freedom, a concept that had escaped him just weeks earlier. The story continues with more upheaval in the land, but the family remains the one constant source that Matapari embraced. Eventually all falls into place and Matapari learns that life is like the tide, it ebbs and flows, but is always constant in one form or another. Little Boys Come From the Stars is a hard, slow read at times, especially if you are accustomed to fast-paced commercial fiction. But crafted in such a way that enjoyable bits of the story are dropped by Matapari, one at a time, making Little Boys worth the reading. 

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Rule Number One
If you send me here again you send me back the same you can change my clothes only leave me in the right realm makes no never mind to me which shade you decide upon just be sure and return me as one whole to a Black woman’s curly life nothing else nothing jus’ something ‘bout the way we do the do the words we use the care we take the shit we shake off the porch how it becomes our office the love cover we always find to throw no matter how wide the waters roll how we hide our heavy hearts and laugh with our soup bone boney selves and boil some water and offer even you some supper has always been on us If you decide for whatever reason I should do this again you you send me back here the same you here I want old familiar ordinary skin stretched on any new bones you are readying for me return me only to a Black woman’s curly conjured life - Nikky Finney, Rice 1995

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mosaic
assata revisited
national Action Center Web site, dream hampton’s is available at BET.com (complete with video footage of Assata), and Lisa Brock’s in 1999 is on the Black Radical Congress site. Most significantly, Cuban filmmaker Gloria Rolando, with the support of the independent video group Imagines del Caribe, has documented Assata’s life in The Eyes of the Rainbow. Although the film is not yet commercially available, it has been screened in the United States and has received critical praise for its thoughtful, honest and vivid depictions of Assata’s struggle and survival. Written three years after her arrival in Cuba, Assata: An Autobiography is a moving story of Assata’s gradual awakening to the harsh reality of American racial persecution and decision to take action by seeking out like-minded people who were committed to active resistance. Her experiences in the Black Liberation Army and the Black Panther Party were rife with contradictions, poor leadership, sexism and confused ideologies, but she speaks passionately of the joy and satisfaction of movement, acting with purpose, and taking part in a united cause. Her choices not only reveals a heartfelt conviction she eventually became ready (and willing) to die for, but ultimately determined her life path and current circumstances. As such, her story reflects the passion of a seemingly long-ago era, when activism was heroic and folks were committed against all odds. Assata’s legacy stands as a call to action for what is just and right, and her example of courage and commitment is a lesson never to be forgotten. From as far away as Cuba, separated from friends, family and loved ones, Assata persists in railing against injustice, inequality and political oppression, and has literally given her life to active resistance. Although America’s law enforcement agencies use her original murder conviction and subsequent escape as justification for their continued pursuit of her capture, the larger issue surrounds her savvy at eluding punishment for the “crime” of resistance. Somehow, Assata has managed to best a complicated, sophisticated system of persecution and has found both the means and support to continue to define her existence on her terms. Her story continues. 

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